View Full Version : ‘The Bone’ proves its worth

10-03-2009, 07:05 PM
‘The Bone’ proves its worth

Today’s B-1B gives coalition forces accuracy they need

The Air Force has decided belatedly that it likes the B-1B Lancer bomber, alias “the Bone.” Ever since its first flight on Oct. 18, 1984, the Bone has been ridiculed — it’s expensive to operate and not very reliable.

A 2007 study showed the B-1B consumed the most dollars per maintenance hour and the most maintenance hours for each flight hour of any aircraft in the inventory. The following year, the mission-capable rate for the B-1B stood at 61.2 percent, the lowest figure in eight years.

Not surprisingly, after those numbers came out, the brass doubted it could afford to continue operating the B-1B.

Couldn’t wait to bury the Bone

A senior officer confided back then that he couldn’t wait to bury the Bone in the boneyard.

“We simply can’t pay to keep this thing in the air,” he said.

Much has changed, though.

The Air Force has new leaders, no longer focused only on fighters. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates has put a next-generation bomber on hold, leaving the U.S. with its smallest bomber force since the 1920s.

More importantly, the B-1B is proving every day that it’s worth the cost — and the hassle.

Today’s B-1B Block E, upgraded with the AN/AAQ-33 Sniper XR targeting pod and GBU-38 joint direct attack munition — a satellite-guided “smart” bomb — is giving coalition forces the accuracy they need in Afghanistan.

A dozen years ago, the 28th Bomb Wing at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, showed me — as a passenger on a six-hour simulated bombing mission — just how effective the Bone can be. The B-1 isn’t as versatile as the B-52 Stratofortress or as stealthy as the B-2 Spirit, but it can fly lower, faster and with a greater bombload than its more respected counterparts.

In a word, the Bone is formidable. The U.S. needs its 66 B-1Bs.

Perhaps no one can make the case better for the Bone than Gen. William M. Fraser III, the new commander of Air Combat Command.

A bomber pilot, Fraser has flown the B-52, the B-2 and the B-1. Two of the aircraft — the B-52 and the B-2 — are no longer part of ACC. They now belong to Global Strike Command, stood up in August as part of the Air Force’s effort to reinvigorate its nuclear mission. But he is still in charge of the B-1 and he can be its protector.

Fraser is the first bomber pilot to lead ACC since the Pentagon created the command nearly 20 years ago by combining Tactical Air Command and Strategic Air Command.

This “bomber general” brings a fresh outlook to a command that for too long seemed too biased toward fighters.

Fraser can — and must —

counter any calls to retire the B-1B. It has proven itself. It deserves to continue serving.